The dilemma I think I am having a midlife crisis – at 27. I was brought up in a Victorian girls-only school with nuns, and my parents were extremely conservative. I graduated from university with top honours. A master’s degree with merit and distinction followed. This should make me happy, but I am starting to hate my life because I have no boyfriends. I cannot differentiate between lust, love and crush! I was engaged once to a promiscuous man whom I loved madly. I feel isolated and alienated. Girls reach my age with numerous adventures and I feel that if I had had multiple boyfriends, I would have been happier. I have crushes on almost every man I meet, even my violin tutor who is eight years my junior. Having sex before marriage is against my family and Christian beliefs, but I am dying to live as other girls do.
Mariella replies That’s not a midlife crisis. That’s just growing up, which is an exercise in perpetual evolution if you’re doing it right. Judging by the values you’ve inherited, and had foisted on you, you’ve been an impeccable daughter and have rewarded your parents for their investment in your education.
Luckily, however, we live in a free world and you can now choose the life you want to lead, the values you cherish and the boundaries of your own morality. I can’t advise you on faith, having given up any shred of religious belief before I hit 20. It’s worth mentioning that, for a brief period in my teens, feeling lost, alone and trying to fit in among my Catholic contemporaries, I did start sneaking off to mass, and would stay at school late to attend folk rock prayer meetings. My horrified atheist parents caught me in my extracurricular worship and banned me from further immersion in Bible-bashing rock and attending church.
I say all this to reassure you that there are many ways to live your life, endless opportunities to rebel and a very long time in which to change your opinions, many times over. You sound like you’ve been immersed in your studies and could do with letting off some steam – but don’t let it be fuelled by misplaced notions of how the other half lives.
These girls with multiple boyfriends aren’t necessarily having a better time than you – just a different time. If you want to remain true to your religious beliefs and don’t believe in extramarital sex, do so with conviction and assurance. You have every right to choose who you want to be and how to live, no matter what the prevailing social mores are. If you identify the right circles, you’ll easily meet someone who admires and shares those Christian principles. Our pool of eligible partners has increased enormously thanks to the internet and you can connect with a wide variety of minorities, through bona fide dating sites, from the comfort of your sofa.
You’ve had dates and even a fiancé, so it’s with some experience that you are questioning what you’ve been brought up to believe. That’s entirely healthy and a very important part of your development. The only thing I’m a true believer in is questioning the status quo and I have few examples of when that’s been the wrong thing to do. Now you’ve proved your intellect, it’s time to put that inquisitive mind to work in pursuit of self-discovery.
It could be that you are happy to lead a life dictated by well-trodden dogma. Alternatively, what you’ve learned along the way may have encouraged you to delve a bit deeper. You are innocent in sexual matters and that can be a disadvantage when dealing with people who aren’t. Allowing crushes to develop on almost every man you meet without using your discernment and principles to influence your choices is a seriously silly thing to do.
What’s most important, though, is that you choose the right path for you, and not one dictated by others. What’s the point of a degree and a masters if you can’t employ that talent for investigation to infiltrate your experience of living? I’m all for heading in a different direction just for the heck of it. To be happy you don’t need to be me, or any of the girls you mention in your letter. As Gloria Gaynor sings so emotively: “I am what I am / I am my own special creation.” In midlife we sometimes unshackle ourselves from the person we’ve become; you are just emerging from your chrysalis and the choices are dazzling.
Instead of watching the world go by, determine where it is you’d like to join in. Emotional intelligence, sacrifice and principle are very much the forte of great novelists, whether in 19th-century epics like Madame Bovary or 20th-century chuckleathons like Bridget Jones. Read, learn, explore and try to solve the mystery to who you really are. Finding answers to such questions – rather than having sex with unworthy candidates – is how you make your life fulfilling.